Friday, October 31, 2008

Remembering Ray

I was going to blog about sourdough herb bread, but that will have to wait until next month. Yeah, like tomorrow or the next day. :)

Today, being Halloween, otherwise know as All Hallows Eve, seems like the right time to talk about someone who has died recently. When someone dies it is difficult for the family and close friends, both because they miss the departed, but also because there really isn't much you can do to comfort those closest to them. You can send flowers and cards, call and give hugs, but nothing lightens the grief for long. That is not a bad thing, really. Grief is one way we honor the dead. How sad if you depart this world and no one grieves for you.

Ray G led a long and full life. He and his wife, my dear friend and sister-of-the-heart W, had over 60 years together and were blessed with children, grand children, and great grand children. None of that helps right now. Ray was the sweetest guy...loving, generous, with a great sense of humor, gentle, quiet, intelligent. He will be greatly missed.

One of the things that we can do is to bring food...always appealing to a food blogger. For the gathering at their home after the funeral we've been asked to bring finger foods. I'm making two cookie recipes from the cookbook I created after my Dad died...making the cookbook was my way of grieving for Dad. It's called Family Food and has lots of the recipes from my childhood. The first cookies, Saucepan Fruit Bars, is really easy, makes a lot and is a wonderful, buttery, lightly spiced bar cookies with dried currants and raisins. There is a yummy lemon glaze on top. They work well for receptions because they can be cut in little squares or bars, they don't crumble, but are moist and very tasty. The recipe is from my Mom, Nancy.

The second recipe is for rolled sugar cookies which have just a hint of nutmeg. The recipe is from Mrs. Johnston, a good friend of my Mom and Dad's. They can be cut with any cookie cutter shape and iced or sprinkled with colored sugar, or even left plain. This would be a great recipe for Christmas cookies because the cookies are the perfect canvas for decorations.

I used a heart cutter and a star shape. I iced the hearts with a lemon juice, confectioners sugar glaze & sprinkled them with colored sprinkles. It was fun seeing the random way the colors landed on the glaze. For the stars, I mixed some unsweetened cocoa into the lemon glaze...I love chocolate and lemon together...then sprinkled chocolate sprinkles over the iced stars. Usually I don't enjoy cutting out cookies and decorating them, but today it was rainy and it was a fun project. Hope the folks coming to honor Ray tomorrow will enjoy them.

Saucepan Fruit Bars
Possibly also called Dundee Cookies

1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs (or use egg substitute)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon EACH cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup currants
1 cup raisins

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add sugar and the eggs, beaten, stir well to blend.
3) Add sifted dry ingredients and buttermilk. Mix well.
4) Stir in fruit. Mix well.
5) Spread in greased pan 15” x 10” x 1 “
6) Bake about 25 minutes. Remove from oven. Brush with glaze of a mixture of 1 cup confectioners sugar, 4 teaspoons lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon lemon rind.
7) Cool in pan. Cut into 2” x 1” bars. Makes about 45.

Rolled Sugar Cookies
Cut out sugar cookies, a recipe from I. Johnston

1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Cream the butter in a large mixing bowl, add the sugar and egg and mix well.
In another bowl mix together the flour, baking soda and nutmeg. Add that mixture to the butter mixture and mix to blend thoroughly. If dough is too sticky to roll, chill until firm enough to roll.
Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters. Place on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 400 degrees until lightly browned, about 7-8 minutes. After cookies have cooled, can be frosted & decorated as desired

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

When the Moon Hits Your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie...

The scarecrow, comfortable in the waning veggie garden on a farm in the Land of St. Honore’, looked in the kitchen window and wondered.

He had noticed the recipe a few weeks ago, all spread out on the counter. He has seen her face light up with excitement and it looked like she was thinking hard…maybe about making the recipe.

Last night as the full harvest moon rose over the far hills, he saw the light on in the kitchen, flour clouds in the air, and on the counter what looked like dough. After a while he had seen her take the dough out of the bowl, divide it in pieces, shape the pieces in balls, dip the balls in oil, then put them into plastic bags. What on earth was she doing?

Tonight she took the pieces and then floured her hands. She held one of the pieced by an edge and moved around the edge, shaping a sort of flat circle. Then she put the circle on her hand, moved her hand and the dough slid off onto the floor. What crazy thing was she up to?

After that she took another ball and did the edge thing, then laid it out on a board and pushed and pulled until it was a large circle. Very curious!

Next she spread some yucky looking red stuff over most of the circle, added thin slices of something red, sprinkled on a whole bunch of some shredded white stuff & shoved the whole thing in the oven.

Too bad the window was open. He smelled what came out of the oven…it was hot, freshly made pizza! The crust was golden and Sweetie quickly sliced it up and put it on plates. Soon they both were enjoying the pizza. The black dog came flying out of the dog door. He had some pizza crust and was enjoying it, too. The scarecrow was envious…no pizza for him.

He hopes that you will visit the Daring Bakers all over the blogosphere to see all the variations of pizza that can be imagined. Just go to the Daring Bakers Blogroll here. Thanks go to Rosa of Rosa’s Yummy Yums at for this great recipe and for a second month of savory Daring Baker joy!

Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).

4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).
NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.
NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.
NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespoons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).
NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan or pizza peel with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.
During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.

In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.

You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan or pizza peel, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.
NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven. Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.
NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.
If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

The basic recipe from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread”, by Peter Reinhart can be found above, but once you have visited some Daring Baker blogs, you will probably be inspired to go way beyond the basic pizza I made. My sauce was a tomato based sauce with Italian sausage bits. My toppings were coppa slices, sliced tomatoes, and shredded Italian cheese mix.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sourdough - Woot!

One hot, hot morning a few summers ago in Seattle, after spending the night in my daughter's temporary corporate housing apartment directly under the living room fan...on couch cushions no less, I rose at dawn to go outside for, hopefully, cooler air. Since Seattle is supposed to never have heat waves, no one seems to install air conditioning. Too bad for us because it really was a heat wave, so even making coffee seemed unreasonable in that sweltering apartment.

I walked down toward Pike Market and was delighted when I came across Macrina Bakery. Coffee? They had wonderful coffee. Something to go with the coffee? The choices at Macrina early in the morning are daunting. I chose a couple of breakfast sweets and a sourdough roll. Christmas before last we were back in Seattle and, in Elliots Bookstore, I found Leslie Mackie's Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cookbook.

Now I could make some of their goodies for myself at home.

One of the things that caught my eye right away was their recipe for Sourdough Starter made with organic grapes. What an intriguing idea! It was too late that year for my own grapes, and last year I was in the throes of a brand new job, so this year I finally tried out the recipe! One of the differences between regular bread made with commercial yeast and artisan bread is the use of starters, sponges, and bigas which help develop more complex flavors in the bread. The version I'm making is the simplest, using only unbleached white bread flour. For the loaves I added a little whole wheat flour, too, for flavor.

After two weeks of faithfully feeding my sourdough starter, made with my own grapes, last night I started some bread and today I baked it and we ate it. Exciting!

Since the yeast in the sourdough was provided from the skins of the grapes growing near the mailbox, plus whatever is lurking in the air, I wasn't sure how it would taste or if it would rise. This is the first time I've tried to make sourdough, so I was a bit nervous about my levain (starter)...would it really taste a nice sour or a bad sour flavor...had the fluctuations in temperature at the beginning killed the yeast? I really wanted it to have a sour flavor, a good crumb, and a nice crust.

After mixing and kneading the dough, oiling it lightly, and setting it in a large mixing bowl with a light, loose wrapping of plastic wrap on top, I let it sit overnight over the fridge to rise.

This morning I saw that the recipe on that I was using (with no added yeast) wasn't going to do the trick, so I plopped the dough back in the KitchenAid mixer, attached the dough hook, and in another bowl proofed 1/2 teaspoon of yeast in 1/2 cup water. Once the yeast got fuzzy looking, I whisked in another cup of bread flour, then added that to the dough in the mixer. After a bit I decided that the dough still needed some flour, so, bit by bit, I added about a tablespoon at a time. I think I added about another 1/3 to 1/2 cup.

Eventually it was time for more kneading, oiling the dough again, back into the bowl, plastic wrap over again, then the rise.

This time, after about 4 hours, it had risen to double in bulk, so I punched it down, formed round loaves and set them on oiled parchment paper on a a baking sheet. A damp tea towel went over both loaves, then more rising time...about another 4 hours. At that point the dough had spread more than it had risen, but I really wanted to bake 'em and see what happened. I followed the directions in the recipe (below) for baking.

It took longer...closer to an hour 15 minutes than 35 minutes...but they baked up with a nice crust, a firm but moist crumb and....tah dah!...a nice sour flavor. The first loaf was almost finished off at dinner...and there were only three of us. Yummy!

Next time I plan to knead it longer by hand, to shape the dough for a bread pan instead of the round boule, and mist the top with water for a different crust. I loved the flavor and texture and look forward to a long, happy relationship with my levain. Let's see, sourdough pancakes, sourdough muffins, sourdough baguette, sourdough bread with apricots and pecans.....

Natural Sour Starter
Makes about 13 oz. of starter
For the Starter:
6 ounces organic grapes
1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups filtered water, at room temperature

For the Feeding Formula
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup filtered water, at room temperature

It takes about two weeks to create a starter, but the time involved each day is fairly short. The starter you end up with can be used to bake with for years if you take care of it. Once the two weeks are up, you only feed your starter once a week.

Creating the Starter
Day One: Place the grapes in the center of a 10-inch square of cheesecloth. Gather up the sides of the cloth and tie with string, creating a sachet.

Leave a tail of string at least 10 inches long. Whisk flour and water together in a medium bowl until all lumps are fully dissolved and the consistency is like pancake batter. Using your hands, crush the sachet of grapes and lower it into the starter. Tape end of string to outside of bowl so that it doesn’t fall into the mixture. Set the bowl, uncovered, in a warm room, about 70 degrees F., and let sit for 2 days.
(Elle’s note: I had trouble finding a warm room. Even over my fridge, the warmest place in my home, was only warm now and then. We have a solar home & no central heating, so the temp varies by 20 – 30 degrees most days/nights. Eventually I put the starter in the microwave because the temperature stays pretty stable there, if not exactly warm.)
Day Three: Small bubbles will appear on the starter’s surface. Remove and discard the sachet of grapes. Now the starter is ready for its first feeding.

• Note: you will need to make a new batch of feeding formula every time you feed the starter. Combine flour and water (amounts listed above) in a medium bowl and whisk until flour is dissolved. Stir this initial batch of feeding formula into the starter and let sit in a warm room for 1 more day, uncovered.
Day Four: Stir the starter with a whisk and discard half of the mixture. Stir in a batch of feeding formula and let sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Then place the starter, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 1 day (Starters need oxygen, which is why they are usually left uncovered.) Store the starter on one of the refrigerator’s highest shelves to keep objects from falling into it.
(Elle’s note: I found that my dog Xam loved to eat the discarded starter, which made me feel better about discarding it.)
Day Five through Fifteen: Remove the starter from the refrigerator, stir it with a whisk, and again discard half of the mixture. Stir in another batch of feeding formula, let the starter sit at room temperature for 2 hours, then return it to the refrigerator. Repeat this process for 10 more days, feeding the starter at about the same time each day. Be sure to let the starter sit out for 2 hours after each feed before returning it to the refrigerator. After these 10 days the starter will be ready for baking and will require less attention.
(Elle’s note: I found that feeding the starter right after dinner and then putting it into the refrigerator two hours later before I went to bed worked really well. Since we had just finished washing up from dinner, it didn’t seem too hard to wash up the mixing bowl, whisk and measuring cups that were used each time the starter was fed.)

Starter - how it looked after 15 days

MAINTAINING a Natural Sour Starter

Once your starter has a life of it’s own and has become sour through the 15 day process given above, it is much easier to maintain than to create. Choose a day of the week that works best for you because you will feed the starter that day each week. The process is just like described in day 5 through 15:
Once a week remove the starter from the fridge and stir it with a whisk. If there is a crust, just remove it with a spoon before whisking. Discard half the starter, stir in a batch of feeding formula and let starter sit at room temperature for 2 hours, then return it to the fridge. Note: Never use up more than half of your starter.

Even with weekly feedings, the starter will lose some of it’s leavening power over time. Before you use the starter in recipes it will require a jump-start:
Remove the starter from the fridge 24 hours before you plan to use it to bake. Stir it with a whisk, discard half the volume, and add a batch of feeding formula. Keep the starter at room temperature and feed it again 12 hours later. Let the starter sit at room temperature for another 8 to 12 hours before baking with it. Measure off as much starter as your recipe calls for, then feed the remainder one more time. Let the starter sit at room temperature for 2 hours, then return it to the fridge.

Starters that are fed daily don’t need an extra feeding before being mixed into dough.

• It’s always best to use starter 8 – 12 hours after their most recent feeding.
• Starters should be at room temperature when they are used.
• Always feed the remaining starter when you remove starter to bake with.
• Never use up more than half of your starter.

Now you get to use your starter to bake something! I chose to bake a simple bread:

Sourdough Bread
From blog

The tradition of sourdough bread on the West Coast began with the forty-niners , the wave of prospectors who came west in search of gold in 1849, and it continued into Alaska when gold was discovered there a few years later. But the tradition really blossomed in the late twentieth century, when the artisanal bread-baking movement took root. Places like La Brea Breads in Los Angeles, Acme Baking Company in Berkeley, and Grand Central Bakery in Seattle introduced Americans to traditional breads based on natural levain, or wild starters.

Makes 2 loaves, 1 1/2 pounds each

1 cup sourdough starter - this is how it looked going into the dough bowl:

1 1/2 cup lukewarm (70°F) water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 1/2 cups organic unbleached white flour (I substituted 1/2 cup whole wheat flour for 1/2 cup unbleached white flour)

Put the starter, water, and flour in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk to make a smooth batter. Using a paddle attachment for the mixer or a wooden spoon, stir in the salt and 3 cups of the unbleached flour, 1 cup at a time, to make a very soft dough. Use a dough hook or the wooden spoon to add the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour and mix or knead the dough until it is very smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.

2. Lightly coat a 4-quart mixing bowl with oil and transfer the dough to the oiled bowl. Turn the dough over once so that the top of the dough is lightly coated with oil. Cover the mixing bowl with a very loosely applied layer of plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature, lightly covered, until it has doubled in bulk, at least 8 hours, and preferably overnight.

3. Press the air out of the risen dough and gently knead it until it is springy again. The dough will have a smooth, flexible “skin.” Divide the dough in half and, working with one half at a time, shape the dough into 2 balls, tucking the cut edges of the dough into the center of the balls and stretching the “skin” over the surface of the dough balls without tearing it.

4. Put the balls of dough on a baking sheet lined with a silicone pan liner or baker’s parchment. Loosely cover the loaves with plastic wrap and let them rise until they are doubled in size, about 4 hours.

5. Put a baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven and put a second rack one position above it. Pour a 1/2-inch layer of water into the baking sheet on the bottom shelf. Preheat the oven to 450°F, and if there is a convection option, use it. Just before putting the loaves in the oven, use a box cutter or a very sharp knife to cut shallow slashes in a cross over the surface of the loaves, about 1/8 inch deep.

Bake the loaves until they are well browned and sound hollow when tapped; an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a loaf will register 200°F, about 35 minutes. Transfer the baked loaves to a cooling rack and let them cool to room temperature before slicing.

Don't forget to feed your starter once you have removed the starter for the recipe!

Friday, October 24, 2008

For Holiday Meals

Getting into the swing now that the blog has passed the 2 year mark, I thought a nice side dish for upcoming holiday feasts might be nice. I suspect that this would make a good stuffing for a turkey, but I know it makes a great side dish for things like roast chicken, roast duck or goose, chicken apple sausage, and turkey burgers. The dish is savory, with just a hint of sweetness from the apple juice and a nice tang from the cranberries and orange zest.

This one is similar to a recipe I've seen (somewhere) during the last month, but it has been such a absurd month...far more to do that time to do it in...that I don't remember where I saw the idea for combining apple juice soaked cranberries with a wild and brown rice combo.

The reason I don't feel too bad about it is that I jazzed it up a bit on my own. I'm almost certain that the original recipe had not a whit of orange. Orange and cranberry are such a natural as a flavor duo that I had to add orange zest. I also cooked the rice in a combination of apple juice (the juice the cranberries had simmered in no less), water and chicken broth. A bit of minced fresh thyme was also my addition.

So hats off to whomever wrote the original recipe, but you get:

Elle's Wild and Brown Rice with Cranberries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup apple juice or apple cider
1 cup mixed brown and wild rice (I used Lundberg's mix that contains wild rice and a mix of brown and other rice)
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
salt and pepper to taste

In a small pot, combine the cranberries and the apple juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain the cranberries, reserving the apple juice.

In a medium pot, combine the brown and wild rice and the chicken broth. Measure the drained apple juice and add enough water to make 1 cup. Stir to combine.

Bring the pot of rice to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, stir, then cover with a tight lid. Let simmer about 50 minutes, until liquid has been absorbed and rice is cooked. Check during the last 10 minutes and add a little more water if rice looks like it will scorch.

Put cooked rice mixture, drained cranberries, and orange zest in a bowl. Stir to mix. Taste, then add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm. Serves 4 - 6

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Quince Time

Although I love the things we can do with the blackberries, apples, plums, pears, persimmons and walnuts that grow here, the quince hold a special place in my heart. They are different, quirky, smell heavenly, and can be used as bowling balls in the street. What's not to like? Best of all they taste wonderful once they are cooked and are a part of my favorite season, Fall.

Last year I made quince jelly and since then discovered that quince and chocolate, especially dark chocolate, are a great flavor combination. Down to the last pint of the jelly in August, I decided to make some more this year. Unlike last year, I made the juice one day, put jars of juice in the fridge, and then made the jelly today, a couple of weeks later. I wasn't sure if all that time in the fridge would be a good thing, but the jelly turned out fine. The nice thing about making it this way is that neither part of the process seems too overwhelming.

The recipe can be found here.

The nice thing about quince is that it has natural pectins, so all you need is the fruit and water and some sugar. Sometimes quince can be found at farmer's markets. If you see these yellow, bumpy, sometimes fuzzy, sort of pear shaped fruits that smell almost floral, do get some and try this recipe!

Update on the starter: We are on day 10 of 15 and the starter is smelling nicely sour and the consistency is thick and sort of like rubber cement, only a very light tan color. I hate throwing away half the starter each day, so Xam gets it as a snack. He seems to like it just fine :) Next weekend it'll be ready to use in a nice loaf of bread!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Just Short of Two Years

This is the two hundred and fifty-fifth post on this blog. It's been almost two years since the first post (which was October 23rd) and the first posted recipe is just as good today as it was then. When you post something as basic and wonderful as vegetable soup, it has a good long shelf life I guess.

Maybe it seems like I'm rushing the blog birthday a bit (and I DO love birthdays). Since October has proven to be the busiest month in 2008 so far, it's possible that I won't even have time to post next Thursday on the 2nd blog birthday, so I'm repeating the October 23, 2006 recipe for your enjoyment.

Blogging continues to be a super hobby. My skills and exposure to new ideas, foodstuffs, techniques and perspectives continue to grow, I've 'met' wonderful, creative, generous people from all over the globe. Looking back at the earliest posts, I think that my photo skills, and even my writing skills have improved over time.

If you have enjoyed this blog, and have the time and interest to do so, consider making one of the recipes from the last two (almost) years, blogging about it and sending me a link. My e-mail address is in the upper right corner of the blog. If life slows down a bit I may even be able to do a round-up if there are a few willing to play along. Here is your chance to try out a Daring Baker Challenge even if you are not a Daring Baker, to try your hand at tomato tarts, a bacon-lover's salad or apple pie or myriad other offerings. If nothing else, here is a good, healthy, fine tasting soup for your fall lunches or dinners.

This recipe is my variation of Weight Watchers zero point Garden Vegetable Soup. With the changes I've made, it's no longer zero points, although it's still pretty healthy. If you prefer to not use canned stuff, you can make broth and cook white beans ahead of time and use fresh tomatoes. If you have no problem with shortcuts, you can use frozen green beans and pre-chopped garlic, too. It's hard to mess this soup up.

Fall Soup

1 Tablespoon olive oil
2/3 Cup sliced carrots
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 Cups (2 cans) 99% fat free broth (I used chicken, but vegetable and beef work too)
1/4 to 1/2 medium head green cabbage, diced (depends on how much you like cabbage)
3/4 Cup green beans
2 medium tomatoes, diced or 1 can Ready Cut style diced tomatoes and juice
1/2 teaspoon dried basil or twice as much fresh
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano or twice as much fresh
1/2 Cup diced zucchini or 1 small summer squash, diced

In a large saucepan heat the olive oil, then saute the carrots and onions over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring every minute or so. Add garlic and saute another minute.

Add about 1/2 cup of broth to the pan and deglaze pan (scrape up the browned bits from the bottom and sides with a wooden spoon), then add rest of broth, cabbage, tomatoes, basil and oregano; bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, about 10 minutes.

Add one can of cannelli beans or other cooked white bean, including the soft stuff at the bottom of the can. Add the squash and green beans. Stir. Put the lid back on and heat another 5 minutes. Check beans. If too crisp, cook another minute or two. Serve hot.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Change Is Gonna Do You Good

No, this is NOT a political post. You'll have to look for that elsewhere.

This post is about a change of seasons, a change to our property, and the changes that come from the air, literally.

Last weekend was full of all of these. First off, I made turkey Italian sausages, but, since the seasons have changed, I didn't cook them on the outdoor grill. First I browned them in a skillet, then took them out and sauteed some sliced onions and red bell peppers in a little olive oil. Then I put the sausages on top of the veggies, covered them up and baked them in the oven at 350 degrees F for half an hour. Excellent results! The sausages stayed plump and moist and the peppers turned velvety.

While the sausages were cooking, I decided to bake a dessert from my childhood; pudding cake. Using a small box of cake mix, a one layer chocolate type, I was able to mix it all up and get it in the oven to cook while the sausages cooked, and just a little while longer. Efficient use of resources, although that's just an excuse.

Sometimes the hankering for chocolate just overtakes me. I do like the direct hit of a bite of semisweet or bittersweet Scharfenberger chocolate, but my very favorite way to have chocolate is as cake. Pudding cake, with it's sauce on the bottom, is even better. I think the recipe might come from a Hershey's cocoa can, since there is a lot of cocoa powder, but we've had the recipe in our family so long that I can't be sure where it came from. If you don't have a one layer size box of chocolate cake mix, you can use a one layer chocolate cake recipe, or use a two layer box of chocolate cake mix, divide it in half and save the rest of the mix for the next time that the chocolate bug bites!

For whatever reason, this time I made the recipe, the sauce was soaked up by the cake, so there was none on the bottom. It did, however, make the cake very moist and delicious, especially with the chopped pecans. I served it to Sweetie with a scoop of Strauss Creamery Organic Raspberry Ice Cream...totally decadent!

Pudding Cake
from Family Food, June 1994

a recipe or box for one layer cake - chocolate cake
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1 cup HOT water

Prepare the recipe for one layer chocolate cake, following the directions on the box if you have a one layer box, or dividing by half if a two layer box, or following the directions in the recipe if you have a 'from scratch' recipe.

Pour into a greased and floured 9 inch square cake pan (8 inch is OK, too). Mix together the cocoa, brown sugar and chopped nuts. Sprinkle over the cake batter.

Place the pan on the oven rack in a preheated 350 degree F oven. Pour the hot water over the cake mixture.

Bake for 30 - 35 minutes.

Best when served warm with the sauce from the bottom of the pan spooned over the top. Serve with cream or ice cream. Serves 6 or so.
Other changes included trimming the Lawson cypress trees that line the road on the south, and windward, side of our property. Any time that you have a yen to have country property, think again. The work involved in keeping up property is endless and expensive. All day Saturday we had two or three of us working. The guys went up in the rented machine that raised a basket far up in the tree canopies. They wielded chain saws to trim out the dead and dangerous branches before the winter rains and winds can cause damage below. I hauled the trimmed branches to the piles where they will wait to be chipped next weekend using a rented chipper machine. The work was dangerous, but not rocket science. We'll have firewood next winter from the larger limbs and lots of wood chips for mulch once the chipper part of it is done. All in all, a good thing.

Another change happened at last, also this past weekend. Christmas before last we went to Seattle to share the holiday with our daughter. While there I purchased the Macrina Bakery Cookbook. One of the things that I found interesting was the recipe for bread starter made using grapes. It was too late that year for grapes from our property, and last year was just plain busy, but this year it all came together. I gathered and weighed the grapes, put them in the cheesecloth sachet, tied it up with string and then crushed the grapes with my hands.

The sachet was put into the starter, which is a simple mix of unbleached flour and water. A couple of days of sitting out allowed the yeast on the grapes and in the air to work their magic. By the weekend after next I should have a sourdough starter. Can't wait to try some of the Macrina recipes using that starter! I'll let you know how it goes. A challenge is that the directions call for keeping the starter at 70 degrees for 48 hours and then another 24 hours. In my house there is no such thing as constant temperature, except in the fridge. Not sure if this experiment will work with the fluctuations in temperature that are normal here. We'll see.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Comforting Apple Pie

The days are getting crisp and the sky is a heart stopping blue. Driving by the farm stands on the way home from an appointment, I noticed drifts of pumpkins around the crates of freshly picked apples, but signs that still say tomatoes...the summer has ended, but harvest time brings summer foods, mixed with fall produce.

If you have been seduced by the beautiful apples at the farmers market or farm stand or grocery store, here is a lovely way to use them...a nice, comforting apple pie with a thick crust. The crust is such an easy one to make, so don't be scared of trying an apple pie from scratch, even if you usually avoid pastry making. It is easy to handle dough, more like a biscuit or scone dough than the traditional finicky thin pastry crust.

If you prefer your apples peeled, by all means do so. I just like the skin left on for flavor and extra vitamins, too. It also makes this a pretty quick pie to make.

A piece of this with a nice cup of hot apple cider and you know one reason why lots of people swear that Fall is the best season of the year.

Apple Pie with a Thick Crust

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick ) cold butter
About 3/4 cup milk

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix in the butter using a pastry blender, fork, or your fingers until the largest pieces are pea-size. Pour in the milk and use a fork to gently form a soft dough. Do not overmix. Divide the dough in two pieces, making one slightly larger than the other. The dough will be a bit like biscuit dough or scone dough.

On a generously floured surface, use a rolling pin to gently roll out the larger piece of dough into a circle about 12 inches across, rolling from the center outward. Sprinkle dough with flour if sticky. Gently fold the dough in half and transfer into a 9-inch pie pan. If the dough tears, simply press it back together with your fingers. Roll out the remaining piece of dough into a slightly smaller circle and set aside (or wait until you have the filling in the pan and then roll it out).

about 2 pounds Gravenstein, Granny Smith, or Pippin apples (or your favorite kind)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon each – ground allspice, nutmeg, and cloves
¼ cup brown sugar, packed

Cut in half and remove the core and the blossom and stem ends. Slice each half into about 8 slices. Put all the slices in a big bowl. Add the flour, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves, and brown sugar. Stir to mix thoroughly.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place apple mixture into pastry lined pan. Spread evenly, mounding slightly in the center. Gently fold remaining rolled out circle of dough in half, and transfer to cover the apples in the pie pan. Use a bit of water to seal the top pastry circle to the bottom one, pressing slightly to seal. Trim excess pastry around the rim and turn under and flute the rim of dough. Slash the top of the pie with a few small slashes of a knife to let steam escape.

Bake in preheated oven 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 350 degrees F. and bake an additional 25 – 30 minutes, or until pastry is golden and juices bubble in the slits. Remove from oven and let cool at least 20 minutes.

Serve warm or cold. Serves 8 – 10. Pie has a thick crust. A scoop of ice cream goes well with this!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

It's Later

Rio Grande Gorge

Taos was wonderful. The desert is so different from our deciduous tree covered hills, but beautiful in it's own way. The light is amazing, too. The last night we were there my sister and brother-in-law gave us glasses of wine and we watched the light of the setting sun turn the Sangre de Christo mountains red. Even the new snow on the tops of the mountains became pink!

Sangre de Christos mountains

I don't have any photos of food from the trip, but I have a nice one of dried chili peppers.

The town has lovely adobe buildings and lots of art and brightly colored doors and windows, too.

One of the great meals we had was a lamb dinner prepared by Ron. He is a great cook! The lamb chops were sauteed with a great quantity of minced garlic. Then he used the juices and garlic as a sauce when he cooked the fresh asparagus and tiny carrots. It really was a feast!

Sweetie, always a train lover, was like a little kid when we took an all day excursion on the Cumbres and Toltec Narrow Gauge Railroad out of Chama. The steam engine made for some very dramatic photos!

The railroad is jointly owned by New Mexico and Colorado. We started in New Mexico and ended up in Antonitos in Colorado. The fall color was magnificent, with lots of golden aspen groves.

It was a very relaxing trip, so now I have to get my mind revved up again. Tomorrow there will be recipes...I promise.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Quick Taos 'Hello'

Blogging from just outside of Taos, NM. It's really beautiful here...the cottonwoods and aspen are golden, lots of artistic clouds, and green chiles at almost every meal. More later!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

There's Something About October

There's something about October that stirs the travel lust in me. The seasons change to my favorite one and I want to see how that looks elsewhere, far from home.

A few years ago we went to Australia in October to visit friends who live in South West Australia, in Perth. Since it is Down Under, we experienced the coming of spring, including dozens of sightings of tiny, tiny wild orchids in various places, plus lots of there wild flowers. When we arrived home, it was full autumn, so I had the best of both seasons!

Last year we went to Virginia about this time and saw the early fall color show there in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

This year we will be off very soon to Taos in New Mexico to see the golden aspen and the gorgeous mountains there. So if this blog is sparse for a while, know that when I return, there will be some photos of the southwest of America.

Just to show that desserts are still my favorite recipes, here is one that was given to me in Australia by our hostess. She grew up in the town of Albany, far south of Perth, and so this is an authentic Australian recipe for a national staple: Anzac cookies.

Anzac Cookies
Yields about 2 dozen cookies
We can thank the veterans of Australia & New Zealand for these..

1 stick (1/2 C.) butter, melted 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons hot water 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons golden syrup 3/4 Cup broun sugar
1 Cup rolled oats 3/4 Cup dry coconut
1/2 Cup flour 1/2 Cup walnuts, chopped (or pecans)
1/2 Cup self-rising flour

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Combine the melted butter, hot water, golden syrup in a mixing bowl. On a sheet of waxed paper
combine the oats, flours, salt, and soda.
3) Add the nuts, brown sugar, coconut and dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Blend well.
4) Pack dough into small tart pans or make drop cookies. Bake for 15 minutes until golden.
5) Cool cookies on wire rack. Store in airtight container. These cookies ship well.